12 percent tobacco tax hike not good enough, health experts say

June 01, 2019

Arjun Poudel, The Kathmandu Post, June 1, 2019

Tobacco use has been linked with many life threatening diseases

Heart diseases are the most common ways by which tobacco kills people. According to the World Health Organization, tobacco kills 27,137 people in Nepal every year.

Experts and doctors say given the rising number of deaths caused by tobacco products, the government should levy more tax on them. But the government on Wednesday announced to raise the tobacco tax by only 12 percent.

“An increase of just 12 percent will hardly make any difference,” said Dr Shiva Raj Adhikari, a professor of health economics at Tribhuvan University.

The WHO has recommended up to 70 percent tax on tobacco products. Nepal imposes 27 percent tax on tobacco products, the lowest among South Asian countries.

Organisations campaigning for tobacco control say hiking tax on tobacco products is a good measure to slash tobacco use, but that did not happen this time.

“We have been asking the government to double the tax on tobacco products if it cannot be 70 percent right now,” said Anand Bahadur Chand, director at Action Nepal, a non-governmental organisation which has been working on tobacco control campaign. Over 30 percent population in Nepal use tobacco products. Doctors say heart diseases in younger people are more likely to be caused by tobacco use.

“The government should raise tax on tobacco products and invest tax collected from the sales of tobacco products in the treatment of non-communicable diseases,” said Dr Bhagwan Koirala, chief consultant and head of cardiovascular surgery at Manmohan Cardiothoracic Vascular and Transplant Center. Tobacco use has also been associated with various types of cancer and lung diseases.

Dr Ramesh Chokhani, senior pulmonologist, said that there is no safe level of tobacco use. “The number of patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have been rising in my clinic every day,” said Chokhani. “The ailment cannot be treated, and we can only make it easier for patients by medication and supplying oxygen.”

Friday was World No Tobacco Day. On the occasion Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO regional director for South-East Asia, laid stress on the need of policy intervention.

“Preventing youth from initiating tobacco use, protecting people from exposure to tobacco smoke in the workplace and public spaces, providing tobacco cessation counselling at primary level, nicotine replacement therapies, youth focused anti tobacco messaging campaigns and others,” she said. “Increasing cost of tobacco products is another proven way to reduce youth demand, with youth people two-to-three times more likely to quit or less as a result of price hike.”